One morning while I was in Dubrovnik I awoke and found that it was overcast but warm, a good day for a walk, and I said to myself, “I’m going to hike to Bosnia & Herzegovina.” I like the idea of being able to walk from the western border of a country to the eastern border and into another country; it sounds impressive, even if the country in question is only a few miles wide.
Of course, it wasn’t as easy as I’d hoped. The first problem is that I was hiking from sea level to a border-crossing in the hills. It’s not a huge gain in elevation, but there was a fair amount of up and down, with the border at about 1200 feet. The second issue was that the nearest border crossing well south of Dubrovnik. By car, it’s about an 8 mile drive. My route wasn’t that direct.
To get out of the city, I had to start by climbing the mountain the overlooks the city, which I’d done before. It’s a long series of switchbacks, but a nice climb with a good view the whole way. I got to the top and started heading towards the village of Bosanka. I ran into cows with noisy bells on the way.
When I reached Bosanka, I read a plaque posted near the road that explained that the village and it’s 17th-18th century buildings had been completely destroyed and burned during the Siege of Dubrovnik in 1991 and 1992 by the Serbian/Montenegrin army. On the outskirts of the village, some of the ruins of the old buildings still remained, though they looked more like old ruins than recent war casualties. The village itself was completely rebuilt and was a pretty, peaceful little place, with lots of fruit trees. I also stopped in at the Kanoba Dubrava restaurant and made a dinner reservation, since the traditionally cooked lamb requires four hours of advance notice.
And then I started walking. The roads were narrow and windy, but almost empty up there. Passing cars were rare. After heading down the coastal cliffs for a while, I turned inland and uphill again.
Beyond the first hill I passed into farm country… mostly olive farms, but there were also grapes and other fruit trees. I walked past a team of five men harvesting olives from a tree: two were in the tree, picking olives and dropping them onto the big white cloth that was stretched out beneath the tree. A third man walked around the periphery and picked up olives that missed the cloth. The two older men were supervisors, I guess. They sat on crates and watched.
As I was walking around a bend in the road, I saw a little sign with something that looked like a rock climber on it, and a small, poorly-kept path up the hill to the left. I was curious about it, so I pulled out Google Translate on my phone to see what the words on the sign meant; maybe I’d take a detour. This app is awesome, by the way. You point your camera at any text, wherever you happen to be, tell it what language it is, and it translates the words and displays them in English in real time. Its the stuff of science fiction for those of us born in the 20th Century, and I love it. Usually it works really well. I pointed it at this sign:
It translated the text as “Creepers Brother Year”. I decided to just move on.
I passed through another village, and started walking up a long road towards the border. There was no shoulder, but luckily still not many cars. Finally, up ahead I saw a low white and blue cinderblock building, and the typical booth with barriers crossing the road. Since I was on foot, I walked up the the small building and peered into an open door. It was the saddest office I’ve ever seen. Dark, with no window and no lights on. I don’t know why; Croatia isn’t that destitute. When my eyes adjusted, I could see a man sitting behind a desk, probably using the light from the door to work… and I was blocking the door. I tried to show him my passport. “No, you have to go to the police!” he said, looking worried and pointing at the booth in the road.
There were two cars in line. So I went and stood in the road behind the second car. Another car pulled up behind me. When I reached the window, I found that the glass was mirrored, and I couldn’t see the woman who spoke, asking where I was going. I said, “Well, just up the road a bit.” She was suspicious. Her hand appeared at the hole in the window and took my passport, and a few moments later, she was about to give it back, but said, “You know, you aren’t allowed to take pictures of the border”. My camera was hanging at my side. I said “No problem.” She lifted the gate and I walked through.
About a hundred meters later, I came to the Bosnian side of the border. It was four guys sitting in folding chairs by the side of the road next to a little yellow block building, with a barrier across one side of the road. A car pulled up, and when the officer was finished with the driver’s passport, he told him to drive around the barrier, rather than lifting it. I’m not sure it was working. One of the men looked up at me and my passport and said, “U.S.A?” and smiled. I concurred. He called a sour looking man from inside the hut, who took my passport and asked me where I was going. Not having a better answer, I repeated that I was just walking up the road. This elicited peals of laughter from the men in their chairs, and the old man gave my passport back. I kept walking.
The Bosnia & Herzegovina side of the border was immediately different. There were big, empty, war-damaged buildings. Houses were still empty and riddled with bullet holes, though there was plenty of new construction as well.
I headed up through a small village into the hills, and passed a couple of old men who were talking by the side of the road. One of them looked at me and said something and pointed up ahead. I didn’t know what he was pointing at, but he very proudly walked up the outer wall of his property and pointed at a painting in a window-frame box. He said something else, and I just smiled, confused, and then he pointed at part of it and said “Sarajevo”, and then it dawned on me. “Ahh, Sarajevo” I said, and dutifully raised my camera and took a picture, and he beamed. I moved to include him in the picture but he laughed and raised his hand, so I kept walking.
I found a dirt road up into the hills. There were remains of old stone walls and orchards, but it was mostly empty, rocky ground. After a while, I realized that I’d been walking for a long time and that the sun was getting low in the sky… and I had a long way to walk home. So I turned around.
Walking down the road, I saw some movement out of the corner of my eye and when I turned to look, I saw a billy goat crashing down through the brush. It strode into the middle of the road, and stood there, as if to block my way. The female goats remained up on the hillside, and I began to wonder if this goat had come down the hill to protect them from me. And I wondered whether it was going to let me by.
I didn’t have a lot of options, and it was clearly a domestic goat, so I started talking to him and moving towards the far side of the road. I like to think that it was my calming voice and gentle demeanor that helped me escape without being rammed, but it was probably just a friendly goat. After a moment, the goat moved out of the road and started eating a blackberry bush.
Before long, I was nearly back at the border to Croatia. Before crossing, I headed over to some of the steep hillsides that form the border and took a few pictures across the valley. The farms in the valley and the coast in the distance are all in Croatia.
I walked back though the border stops. The Bosnian guys just nodded me past. The Croatians stamped my passport again. It was starting to get dark, but I was off on tiny country roads before it really started getting dark. By the time I reached the coastal cliffs again, it was pretty dark, but I could see Dubrovnik in the distance, and it was pretty in the dim light.
It was 6:35, and I’d made my dinner reservation for 7:00, but I’d reached Konoba Dubrava in Bosanka already, so I went in. They were waiting for me. It was no longer tourist season, and out there in the hills, that means very slow business, so they seemed genuinely happy to have me there. I sat outside on a covered patio at something like a picnic table… there were perhaps a twenty of them, but only two others were occupied. My dinner arrived, and I was hungry from all the walking.
The food was good. I ordered the lamb cooked in the coals of a wood fire under a bell-shaped lid (peka), and it was very moist and tender, though a bit bland. The potatoes were really good, though, and it was a huge amount of food, which was also good. The apple strudel for dessert was wonderful.
And then, I started the hike home. From there, that meant climbing about a third of the way back up Dubrovnik’s mountain, finding the path, and then it was all downhill to the city. The moon was out, a waning gibbous, so even though I had a flashlight (of course), I decided to just walk in the dark. Nobody was around… I had the mountaintop to myself. It was quiet and peaceful, though it was starting to get a bit chilly.
I found the path without any trouble, and started down. If I’d turned my flashlight on, I might not have been making so much noise on the loose rocks and I might have heard the group of people dressed in dark clothing coming up the path below me. I had just turned right onto a new switchback, when I saw the people coming up, perhaps 10 yards away. I couldn’t make out any of their features in the dark, or even see how many there were, so I paused and started to consider my options… and then, as a group, they started chanting in Latin.
My mind immediately jumped back to every horror movie I’ve ever seen where some sort of dark ritual is accompanied by chanting. In particular, the movie Young Sherlock Holmes and the chanting of the dark-cloaked pyramid cultists flashed through my mind, and I steadied myself to jump down the steep side of the hill to safety… when they got close enough to see and I realized that they were actually just middle-aged Catholics doing a night-time pilgrimage to the big cross at the top of the hill (there are stations at each switchback). There were about a dozen of them.
I laughed at myself, though I still don’t see why they couldn’t have had a flashlight or some candles. I walked the rest of the way home feeling a bit silly and then collapsed on my couch. My phone says that I took about 37,000 steps… which is well under the number that I took on my longest day of walking in Hungary (something like 41,000), but it seemed a lot longer than that. My best estimate is that I walked around 17-18 miles.